Elin Manahan Thomas / Conventus / English Chamber Orchestra

Patrick Hawes: Song of Songs

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British composer Patrick Hawes (born in 1958) seems to inhabit an aesthetic niche similar to that of John Rutter; his range encompasses both "serious" choral composition and a more pop-influenced style -- a kind of "classical lite" that seems targeted at crossover audiences -- and this album includes examples of both. At one end of the spectrum, Song of Songs, six settings from the Song of Solomon, bring Karl Jenkins to mind, facile and sentimental, but relentlessly pretty, geared to appeal to fans of pop music that has a mildly classical flavor. They are scored for chorus and soprano soloist, with occasional other soloists, accompanied by strings. The choral parts are straightforward enough to put them within the range of many church choirs, an audience for whom they seem intended, but the solo part is so outrageously high that it is unlikely it could be managed by an amateur performer. Even Elin Manahan Thomas, who has a light, pleasing voice, is sometimes reduced to squeaking, trying to negotiate Hawes' unrealistic demands. On the other hand, When Israel Was a Child and O Lord Our Governor, for chorus and organ, and the lovely a cappella Vauday Part Songs, are substantial works, disciplined and richly imagined. Overall, the performances of Manahan, the other soloists, Hawes' own choral ensemble Conventus, organist Roger Sayer, and the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by the composer, make as strong as possible a case for the music. The sound is present and clean.

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